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Entrepreneur of the Month: Miyu Yamamoto

International Master Artist Educator (iMAE), Arnhem

Every month, the ArtEZ Business Centre and the courses together select a student or alumnus as Entrepreneur of the Month. Their stories give you an idea of what to expect, based on current topics from the professional field. Is there a secret to cultural success? Do you have to excel in your art or is it about selling yourself? Is it a matter of luck, wisdom, hard work or a good strategy?

Entrepreneur of the Month: Miyu Yamamoto

In our lives, there is nothing you can predict. What I am doing as a freelancer in the Netherlands was something I have never imagined until I finished the international Master Artist Educator (iMAE) at ArtEZ Arnhem.

My name is Miyu. I graduated from iMAE at ArtEZ Arnhem in 2019. I am currently based in Amsterdam, working as a freelancer in Art/Education/Food for Japan and The Netherlands. During the Master, I developed an idea of Socially Engaged Art Practice and my work philosophy. Now my work can be divided into two categories: 1) Embodied food and 2) Designing Art Education programs. Food is my artistic tool to engage various people, while on the other hand, I design Art Education programs for schools and companies. Both aim to offer people to meet new perspectives and enrich their lives. All my work originated and is based on my urge to "Re-Humanize."

Socially engaged art project in the Netherlands

Your urge is your mission

Knowing the reason why I started my work is knowing my background. I was born and raised in Japan as the 3rd generation of Korean Japanese descent. Over my ethnic background, I was bullied very badly. Because of this experience, I wondered why people look to humans as a country and not as humans, why people make categories or groups and judge people immediately by their filter. Since then, my urge has been "Re-Humanization," where people have pure curiosity and bring humanity back in their lives.

Those experiences intrigued me to study and work in the Education field at first. After working a while in a non-profitable organization and startup in the education field, I started to feel the necessity of artistic perspectives. Yet Why? Because of the severe hierarchical and judgmental societies in Japan, I imagined Art could bring a positive shift to the world and respect different values. Art is where everything in the universe is equally valued, and it allows people to be open to others. That was the reason why I am working on these projects.

Stories of Roots event at a gallery in Nijmegen

"Art" the Capitalism! 

Nowadays, it could be said that many countries have a deep capitalist culture that encourages hierarchy and gives people the pressure to ensure their position in society, which often ends in competition. Also, it creates specific images of "Great" people (or, in other words, "Successful" people), and usually, the value of life is measured by comparison. How famous you are, how much money you earn, how big a project you do, what kind of people you know, how knowledgeable you are, where you work, what you do, where you are from, how productive and efficient you are…. Do all those "external" elements make people more worth or less? Of course, NOT! I believe capitalism itself is not wrong, but how people utilize it can go wrong. If we know that, we can "Art the Capitalism" rather than avoid or deny the system. Before, I sometimes got the pressure to make the idea happen quickly, but it was not an authentic drive to work. For me, it is a principle to begin with true feelings, an authentic value, for Re-Humanization but as a structure of the project, considering how the project can run sustainably in this current era is also essential at some point. 

Discussion about Art Education program with a teacher

Art is a transformation elicited by dialogues, dialogues with different disciplines. Transformation within yourself and with others. 

During iMAE, I developed a Socially Engaged Art project called "Stories of Roots (SoRs)." SoRs is where people explore and embrace themselves and others through food. It is one of the embodied food works I do. This project aims to connect various people and try to break boundaries in people through food by knowing people's roots. I started this project very organically by contemplating the context, walking around Arnhem. I bumped into some girls sitting on the stairs in front of a building. I had a little chat with them and found that the building was a dormitory for female Muslim students. That time they were in Ramadan. They invited me for a dinner gathering the next day. From that point, I started to go there almost every day, getting to know them, talking with staff till midnight, trying Ramadan together (although I failed in a week), we shared food, made food together. Then organically, five girls showed more interest in continuing the embodied food experience. We shared personal stories, and by knowing those girls' stories, characters, and communities, I deeply felt why there is still a prejudice against different religions or ethnic groups and why the societies are so divided. I started to think about how I can connect people, and after I discussed with the girls, I decided to deliver the stories/food to a different place. That point was when my project became more formed into a business plan to make it a sustainable project rather than having only one temporary event. To do so, I envisioned a whole structure of how the project would work with different stakeholders. Firstly I had to clarify various factors: what my urge was, whom I wanted to make happy, what I wanted/could provide, to whom I wanted to deliver, and who would pay for it. 

Sometimes I was too busy to structure it but just by doing leads you to what is next. Through the socially engaged art project, I realized that MAKING and TRYING with PEOPLE are essential points. By making and pivoting your idea, you will see the shape of your work.

Experiential food event "sensory kitchen" at a gallery in Nijmegen

Important to translate what you want to deliver into the "language" people would understand you. 

I also design and deliver educational programs using Art. It ranges from kids to adults (schools and companies). Its purpose is to give the participants opportunities to enhance pure curiosity and mutual understanding. Likewise, SoRs, is a combination of theory and practice. I still develop my theory or method that I discovered during iMAE by doing practice. Although the approaches, methods, tools, and targets could be different in projects, all my works are interconnecting along with one core: "Re-Humanization". Sometimes, I struggle with how to present my work/proposals to clients. To be honest, making projects into presentations to tell others is one of the parts I struggle with most. Even if my head knows what it means, it would be difficult for them to understand it in my "language." Most of the time, it is better for both my clients and me to use the client's language and adjust the way of presentation. So they can understand what I want to tell quickly. In particular, for the art education work, I had to change how to present my proposals, such as words, visuals, and main points (stories). For me, it is still hard. Yet, the only solution is trying many times. 

I realized that MAKING and TRYING with PEOPLE are essential points. By making and pivoting your idea, you will see the shape of your work.

Although COVID-19 led me to face many difficulties to continue the food project and education work, leading to a problematic finance situation (still now..), that period gave me space and time to discover my identities, project, and room for experimenting. I am currently trying to develop the contents, enrich my existing network and expand it. Furthermore, for the next couple of years, I envision collaborating with more artists to design and offer online art educational programs. However, the essential key for me is to focus on the presence. My motto for my life/work is to be in the presence, believe in myself, follow my urge, be open for the encounters, imagine people I want to make happy, adapt to the context, and do what I can do now. It is an exchange of values for social transformation.

Socially Engaged Art practice in Northern Ireland

As long as I don't forget WHY I am doing that (my urge & core value), then the "HOW" can be flexible, and still, I am learning every day.  

It feels like my project is a mirror of my identity. I love what I do, and I love people; I love to bring more love to more fields. I think I organically found my approach and preference for work/life by doing. Values I will hold. I stick to my inner voice as my drive, not by external elements. Love, Hate, Compassion, Oppression, and Anger…. As everyone has a different urge and personality, the approach towards transformation is also dependent on people. You will shape your direction, scale, field, people, tools, and life - identity. I like to see people smiling. I like to make people feel loved and loving. To me, entrepreneurship could be like that.

Follow Miyu